Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The Play-by-Mile (or, The Thoughts That Go Through One's Head While Running 13.1 Miles in 90-Degree Heat)

4:30 a.m.: Alarm goes off in the middle of a dream about an ex-boyfriend. He was trying to sell me a house. No idea. It's already almost light out.

4:45 a.m.: The computer says it's already 68 degrees out. In the words of Luke Skywalker, "I've got a baaaad feeling about this." Grab my running hat at the last minute and stuff it in my backpack.

5:00 a.m.: Climb into the car, full of Cheerios and OJ, race number neatly pinned to singlet. Off I go.

5:30 a.m.: Easily find (underground=cool!) parking at the finish line. Board a yellow school bus with a giant Team in Training group (my old homies!) who chatter incessantly on the trip back across Lake Washington to the start line.

6:00 a.m.: A parking lot outside Husky Stadium lined with port-a-potties. I avail myself of one while there's no line, then stake out a place near the curb with shade to wait for an hour. I plug into my iPod and read a Dick Francis mystery in between stretches.

6:30 a.m.: I decide to move when the line for the port-a-potties starts to encroach upon my personal space. I'm starting to dislike the idea of being surrounded by full bladders. I go instead to check my backpack at bag check, then stretch some more.

6:50 a.m.: The street closes so we can line up at the Start. I find the 9:10 minutes/mile pace group--three women and one man in special green shirts with "PACER" printed on the back--and memorize what they look like. I hope to follow these folks across the finish line.

7:00 a.m.: The guy on the P.A. system announces that not all the participants have arrived on the busses yet (there is later a news story saying 400 runners didn't get to do the race at all), so we're moving the start time up to 7:15. Boo. I'm anxious to get going, and it's only getting hotter. I pass the time by looking for my coworker Ben, whom I finally spot and wish luck to. He's running the half as well.

7:15 a.m.: We're finally going!

Mile 1: We're running across Lake Washington on the 520 floating bridge. I have driven across it umpteen times and failed to realize how long it is. No shade, sun beating down from above and reflecting back up from the water. Not for the last time, I mentally pat myself on the back for packing my hat at the last minute.

Mile 2: First water stop. I'm so happy to see it I could cry. Only 11 miles to go.

Mile 3: I reluctantly face up to the fact that I'm going to have to let the 9:10 pace group--and therefore my goal of finishing in two hours--go. Instead I set two new goals: don't walk (except through water stops) during the first half, and finish in under 2.5 hours.

Mile 4: The Seafair Pirates are lining the route cheering us on and slapping hands. I don't pause to contemplate the oddity of high-fiving a guy in a tricorn hat and eyepatch while running a half marathon.

Mile 5: This water stop has run out of full cups, so they're handing out empties and filling them for people. I try to be patient as I watch the cluster of other hands that were there before me get their cups filled; when it's my turn, a clearly female hand shoves her cup above mine to catch the stream of water. I tamp down the urge to slap her and continue waiting.

Mile 6: This is a nasty hill, and only partly in shade. But it looks like it ends soon. ...Nope, just a bend in the road. It'll probably end at the next curve. ...Nope. Nor the next, nor the next. Seriously: Who laid out this course, Hitler?! People start to walk. I press on and finish the hill after a small eternity.

Mile 7: More than halfway through, and no walking. First goal accomplished. My friend/coworker Angela said she might be at this mile (in addition to the finish line). I look for her but don't see her. I try to put out of my mind the sight of a couple of runners lying by the side of the course being attended to by medics.

Mile 8: For some reason my mind dredges up a memory of the Cricket after one of my training runs. I was covered in sweat and she had just learned to pull herself up, and since her face was at knee level and Mommy was salty, she started sucking on my knee. The memory washes me in an almost overwhelming wave of lonesomeness for her.

Mile 9: It's getting close to the time when I told Angela I would be crossing the finish line. Yeah right. But I don't want to keep her waiting too long. I'm fighting a losing battle at staving off the discouragement.

Mile 10: Some folks are out in their yards with hoses, spraying us as we pass. I bless them aloud. Nevertheless, I can no longer run the hills. I trudge up them more slowly than I'd like.

Mile 11: Downtown Bellevue. We're on asphalt with the sun directly overhead and no mature trees in sight. To say it's hot would be an understatement. The last water stop has run out of cups. I imitate the runners in front of me and cup my hands under the water a volunteer is pouring. I get maybe half a mouthful.

Mile 12: I am passed in the opposite direction by a tall, lithe runner bearing the race number 6. My heat-addled brain belatedly comes to the conclusion that this guy has finished the full marathon and is on a cool-down run. I repress the urge to trip him.

Mile 13: Almost there. I look at my watch and realize I'm going to accomplish my second goal. I start to look for Angela.

Finish line: Angela is leaning over the barrier only a few yards from the finish, beaming and yelling my name. The clock says 2:26. I did it, and what's more, I'm not delerious from heat exhaustion. I'm shunted through the throngs of volunteers collecting my timing chip, putting a medal around my neck, and offering me everything from water to yogurt-covered pretzels. Perhaps for the first time in my life, I voluntarily turn down Oreos, as the sight of them makes me nauseous. I wander through the crowd, fighting down tears of disappointment and shame at having failed so spectacularly to accomplish my two-hour goal. Angela suddenly appears at my side, gives me a huge hug, then takes my hand and leads me to a patch of grass by a fountain. The water is filthy, but I don't care. I remove my socks and shoes and dangle my feet in it anyway. Angela has brought me a bottle of fruit juice, which she has kept on an ice pack. Since at this point I'd sell the Cricket for a cold drink, I am more than grateful. It's a little slice of heaven.


Anonymous said...

wow - you have a great memory!

Sounds like you had fun, even if the goals had to change.

Yay for Angela and the juice!


Anonymous said...

Oh honey! Do NOT feel disappointed! A third of the battle is just showing up (as I learned with my 5K trophy-ha!) a third is finishing, and a third is having the smarts to not give in to despair but to adjust your goals and make it work. You did more than most people I know! And you know what? THAT is what life is all about. (Sorry, teachable moment from the professor) We are proud, girlfriend!


Anne said...

I am unreasonably proud of you! I think completing a half marathon in extreme heat is a huge accomplishment, and you ran most of it. You would have had your 26 minutes back under other circumstances and you'll make them up next time, I'm confident. This was a very inspirational report.

VenetianBlond said...

You are the goddess, the bomb, the end, and the wickety wickety wack. You kept on keepin' on, and I am so inspired by you.

coxcrow said...

Damn, Venetionblond took the words right out of my mouth. I will only add "YOU ROCK!" and "AWESOME JOB!"


Heidi Jean said...

I confess I didn't read the blow-by-blow but I love "being surrounded by full bladders"! Good for you Woman!!

Susan Q said...

Do you realize that most of us will never travel 13 miles on our own two feet, unless, possibly, we are riding one of those funny two-wheeled machines the meter maids use? You remain my super hero whether you are running, standing, sitting or editing. Rock on, Allison!